Today, I’d like to compare broad and black comedy. I’ve told you before I don’t have the genre of broad comedy in me. Don’t know how many screenplays I’ve written but not one of them is broad comedy. Black comedy, on the other hand, is just about my favorite genre. So how could that be? They’re just sub-genres, can they be that different?
For our purposes, I’d like to define our terms. A list of great broad comedies, for me, might look like this:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Meaning Of Life, Young Frankenstein, 40 Year-Old Virgin, Blazing Saddles, Airplane!, Ghostbusters Animal House, Caddyshack, Blues Brothers, Spinal Tap.
But it would also include the awful, generic knock-offs of more popular movies, utterly formulaic, like:
That’s My Boy
Or stinking remakes like
The Beverly Hillbillies
21 Jump Street
A list of black comedies could easily pass for my favorite movies. They would include:
American Beauty, Heathers, American Psycho, The Big Lebowski, Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Fargo, The Royal Tenenbaums, In Bruges, The King Of Comedy, Harold And Maude, Man Bites Dog, God Bless America, Four Rooms, Dr. Strangelove, Ravenous, The Trouble With Harry, Barton Fink, Shakes The Clown, The House of Yes, To Die For, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Raising Arizona, Very Bad Things, Brazil.
Sure, I understand that some of these can’t strictly be called black comedy. But let me ask you: Can a comedy have dramatic elements and the reverse? The cliche would be to say that black comedies are always quirky, edgy, overly brainy tales that cannot appeal to a mass audience. Their stories often caught up in death and tearing down of cultural icons…
The Coen Brothers rule this genre. I could happily c r o a k tomorrow had I written The Big Lebowski, or Barton Fink, or Raising Arizona…
Kubrick is no slouch either. Dr. Strangelove is for the ages—and is the blackest of black comedy. Lolita, a serious novel by Nabokov, played out for the screen with great dark humor. Defending Kubrick in what makes his movies so important is the stuff of thesis papers. Visual essence of his unique eye -shapes, sounds, colors, and implied meaning (rather than explicit meaning) to present us a narrative through his unique POV.
Dr. Strangelove will be around 100 years from now. How about Bridesmaids? Or Wedding Crashers? Directness of storytelling in itself does not determine greatness.
The idea of serious or High Art is a cliche too. Shakespeare’s plays were written for the widest scope of “the people” in the same way Ted was.
We decide collectively what is phoney and what is profound…it’s called Box Office. It’s also called the Oscars. Studio Execs line up to whisper sweet nothings in Craig Hazin’s ear after his script for The Hangover 2 grossed $580+ million worldwide.
And it won how many Oscars?
The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that The Hangover Part II holds a score of 35% based on 226 reviews from critics with a rating average of 5.0 out of 10. The website’s critical consensus is that the film is “a crueler, darker, raunchier carbon copy of the first installment” and “lacks the element of surprise – and most of the joy – that helped make the original a hit.” Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 44 based on 40 reviews. CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was a A- on an A+ to F scale.
Andrew Barker of Variety gave the film a negative review, stating, “The stock dismissal ‘more of the same’ has rarely been more accurately applied to a sequel than to The Hangover Part II, which ranks as little more than a faded copy of its predecessor superimposed on a more brightly colored background”. Christy Lemire of the Associated Press said, “Giving the people what they want is one thing. Making nearly the exact same movie a second time, but shifting the setting to Thailand, is just … what, lazy? Arrogant? Maybe a combination of the two”. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times also gave the film an average review of two stars (out of a possible four) stating, “The Hangover Part II plays like a challenge to the audience’s capacity for raunchiness. It gets laughs, but some of them are in disbelief”.
Conversely, Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter gave The Hangover Part II a positive review remarking, “What happens in Bangkok isn’t as much fun as when it happened in Vegas, but it’s still worth the trip”. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post said, “There are definitely laughs to be had, even if the three leads often seem to be going through the motions”.
How about a comedy that did do well with this Oscars, this year: Silver Linings Playbook:
Silver Linings Playbook
2hr 0min – Rated R – Comedy
Director: David O. Russell – Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker
Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solitano has lost everything – his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother and father after spending eight months in a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat’s parents want is for him to get back on his feet. When Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them..
What would you call this movie? Black comedy? Dramedy? Drama? For me, the best movies are genre-benders. They blur genre lines. I like not being able to put my finger directly on what a movie is.
Next week we’ll compare a black comedy and a broad comedy: Moonrise Kingdom vs. Ted!